It doesn’t matter what you have seen in cartoons. Animals don’t talk! Or do they? While you probably won’t hear your dog conversing with you in English any time soon, new studies reveal that animal calls are less random and more similar to language than we humans assumed before.
A recent article in The Washington Post talked about a recent study published in Proceedings B (The Royal Society’s research journal dealing with the biological sciences) where researchers examined the complexity of animal sounds using a series of mathematical tests. They studied the vocal sounds of orangutans, free-tailed bats, Bengalese finches, Carolina chickadees, rock hyraxes (which are small animals found in Africa and the Middle East that look somewhat like a guinea pig), pilot whales and killer whales.
Until now scientists have believed that animal calls fit a simple Markovian process while human language was considered to be more complex, allowing it to be much less predictable and random. However, what these researchers found was that the vocal sounds by all of the animals studied did not fit under the Markovian process label. In fact, most of the animal calls could be considered complex instead.
So do animals just have their own languages? Scientists say no. They say that language has to be learned, which many animals like whales and birds do, but also that language must be able to express a wide variety of different emotions. So far they believe that animals lack the breadth of communication for us to consider their calls as true languages.
What does this mean? Scientists today still do not how human language evolved from animal communication and came into existence. However, it is hoped that researchers will eventually be able to solve the mystery. The real story, which many hope is brought ever closer by studies like this one, is bound to be complex and fascinating.